Bruce Lee is dead, but his legend lives on - and this month, it comes to comic books.
In stores now, Bruce Lee: The Dragon Rises #1 transplants the real-life Bruce Lee from the height of his fame in the late 1960s into 2016 to live, work and fight like he did in his iconic movies. Lee's daughter, Shannon Lee, initiated this new series with the upstart publisher Darby Pop, and co-writes it with animation veteran Jeff Kline and artist Brandon McKinney.
Newsarama talked with Lee, Kline, and cover artist Bernand Chang about Bruce Lee: The Dragon Rises, and what they hope to achieve. Bruce Lee #2 is scheduled to be released May 25.
Newsarama: Shannon, Jeff, Bernard, Bruce Lee: The Dragon Rises is based on the idea that Bruce Lee is still alive, and in his prime, in the modern day. What can you tell us about the series?
Shannon Lee: Though many possibilities were thrown around, I ultimately wanted my father to be in modern day and be himself so that he could be relatable to audiences of today and yet see the world through an outsider’s lenses. More importantly, we made it so that he had no memory so that he would have to not only solve the mysteries of time, place and circumstance, but also so that he would have to go on his own journey of becoming himself again, which is what his real life was all about anyway - self-actualizing, creating his own path... being like water!
Jeff Kline: I'll just add that - initially - Bruce has no idea who he is, how famous he is/was, or what the heck happened to him 40+ years ago. Shannon and I made the decision very early on to put Bruce in the more-or-less present day so that he'd be immediately relatable to young fans and fans-to-be. We also thought it would be fun to play Bruce a bit against type; here's a man famed for his tremendous physical and mental acuity. But, while the muscle memory remains, everything else for Bruce is fuzzy. He's frustrated and vulnerable, and the world has changed pretty substantially over the past four decades. Meaning we can play plenty of "fish out of water" moments for pathos and humor. The bottom line: we wanted to both introduce Bruce to a new generation, and introduce this generation to Bruce.
Nrama: Shannon, where did the idea for doing this fictionalized story about your father first get started?
Lee: Well, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for comic books. My brother always had them around the house and I would read them all the time, too. Once I grew up and stepped in to start looking after the Bruce Lee brand, I thought “why isn’t there an official ‘Bruce Lee’ comic book? There should be!!” and not only should there be an official "Bruce Lee" comic book, it should be one that introduces my father and his legacy of awesomeness to a whole new generation of kids so they can experience his amazing action and inspirational philosophy as well. So, I just started working to manifest it and voila! I was introduced to Jeff Kline who is an awesome partner and guy and here we are!
Kline: It's kind of a Hollywood cliché, but we were introduced to each other by someone who suspected we might be creatively compatible. As soon as Shannon and I (and the rest of her team at Bruce Lee Entertainment) started tossing around ideas... just riffing, really... it became pretty clear that we were going to find something -- or a whole mess of things -- to do together.
Nrama: Jeff, you've done fictionalized stories based on real people before with the animated Jackie Chan Adventures. What's that like for you?
Kline: It's a blast. A comic book series like this gives me an excuse to do a deep dive into the subject's life. I used to be a newspaper reporter, and there's still a part of me that loves the "digging." And in both the case of Jackie and Bruce/Shannon, there's a real person I have opportunity to work with closely who's proven himself/herself to be an amazing partner and - yeah, I'll say it - friend. Honestly, I got into the entertainment business a few decades ago because I freakin' loved movies and TV. I wanted to tell stories. And I wanted to meet the artists I idolized. The absolute best part of my career is that I've been able to work with so many folks whom I admired from afar -- actors, writers, illustrators, etc. One of the core reasons I started Darby Pop Publishing was so that I could continue to collaborate with people I respect - and/or am in awe of - whether I remained based in Los Angeles full-time or not.
Nrama: Bernard, I see you're doing covers for Bruce Lee: The Dragon Rises. How did you get involved?
Bernard Chang: Jeff Kline and Renae Geerlings from Darby Pop first approached me about working on the Bruce Lee project this past fall. I had worked with them previously on various covers for their other projects including Doberman, Indestructible, and City: The Mind in the Machine, and enjoyed the collaboration.
Nrama: What made this a project you wanted to do?
Chang: As an immigrant growing up in America in the late 70s and 80s, there were very few Asian-American role models to look up to. Bruce Lee transcended all races and barriers and was an instant hero growing up, both good and bad. I'd remember every Sunday in Miami, on channel 33, they'd feature a kung fu movie-of-the-week and it was my only chance to see a face on television that I could relate to. So when Jeff and Renae asked if I was interested in working on the Bruce Lee comic book project, the answer was an immediate "YES!" It's one of those rare instances as a pro that you get to indulge in your childhood idol.
Nrama: Shannon, that “childhood idol” Bernard refers to is also your father. You've produced and took part in several projects based on your father before, but hard is it to separate the idea of Bruce Lee the father and Bruce Lee, the cultural icon, to you? Or do you?
Lee: It’s not hard for me because I don’t make that separation because my father didn’t make it either. My father never thought of himself as an icon or a master; he believed he was in a constant state of learning. He regarded himself holistically and he believed in presenting himself authentically regardless of the situation (father, actor, martial artist, friend, etc.) so I just follow his very own guidance when trying to represent him out in the world.
Nrama: Your father has been adapted numerous times into comic books, from appearing in Marvel's Deadly Hands of Kung Fu to a 1994 Malibu solo series and even cameos in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and some Batman books. Did you or your family have any involvement in those?
Lee: No. we did not. Those were done without thought of my family.
Nrama: But speaking back to this new series Bruce Lee: The Dragon Rises, why do you think this story is a good fit for comic books?
Lee: I think it’s a great fit for a number of reasons - it’s going to be action- packed, full of mystery and tension, funny, philosophically deep at times, and we get to have Bruce Lee back in action! I mean, in this world of fantasy super heroes, here’s a true hero with superhuman attributes that is a true role model and inspiration to many around the world. Who doesn’t want to see him rise again?